Christian leaders know and invest their lives in those they lead. To a faithful Christian leader, those in their ministry do not exist for their benefit. The true shepherd so desires the vitality of those they lead that the impression they make on the shepherd’s hearts lasts long after the leadership relationship is completed.
One example of such a shepherd is my friend, Brad Bigney. I learned from both his words and his life what a true shepherd leader is.
When I was a young pastor without much knowledge or experience (pretty lacking on common sense as well), I sought counsel from more seasoned pastors. I had seen the impact of Brad’s ministry in the community and thought I would benefit from a relationship with him. After just a phone call, he agreed to pour into my life and spent the next year, for about two hours once a month, answering my questions and pointing me to resources. He constantly told me to find ways to encourage, to pray, and to find joy in those I led. He talked about how leadership is about those you lead, not your vision or plans. Vision and plans are a part of leadership, but they exist for the people, not the people for them.
As formational as that time was, it was how Brad related to me after I moved away from the area that had the greatest impact. For years, I would receive a hand written letter from Brad a couple of times a year that listed how he prayed for me, words of encouragement, and several Bible verses to spur me on in ministry. Anytime I shot an email or text to him, a response would inevitably come back within the hour. He was always ready to set aside an hour to talk on the phone, answer questions, and just be there to provide guidance. He constantly told me he was praying for me and always ended every interaction with an encouragement to keep going, keep fighting, keep pointing people to Jesus.
The most impactful moment was when, a few years after I had left the community, I was in town for a conference and attended the church he pastors. After seeing me in the crowd, he excitedly told me to wait and a moment later had brought Vicki, his wife, to meet me. After telling her my name, her eyes grew wide, a smile grew across her face and she said, “Oh, so YOU’RE Dustin!!!” Brad hadn’t just seen me as something he did for a job. Though at that point my body had never been in his home, my name was, both in conversation and in prayer.
From Brad, both by the counsel he gave, the example of his ministry, and his impact on my life, I have learned invaluable wisdom on the heart of a true shepherd-leader.
Encourage those You Lead
No one has ever uttered the sentence, “That guy encourages me too much.” I have never heard of a person quitting their job, leaving a church, of shoving off a friendship because their leader showered them with too many encouraging words. Encouragement can be the fuel that fires people toward heights they never thought possible.
Pray for those You Lead
If you’re a leader, do you pray, by name, on a regular basis, for every single person in your ministry? True shepherd leaders do. Different leaders do it in different ways but there is an intentional and specific effort to make sure that each individual in your ministry is lifted to the Father on a regular basis.
Take Joy in those You Lead
True shepherd leaders smile and they consider the joy of leading you weightier than the pain of putting up with you (which, admittedly, sometimes leaders have to do). They lead because they want to, and those they lead never become a burden of which they long to be rid. Like Paul, they labor with excruciating effort to see Christ formed in those they lead.
The true shepherd-leader invests their heart and passion into those they lead. They show it through their encouragement, their prayers, and their joy.